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Dave Van Ronk, the Real Llewyn Davis

By John Morthland, Contributor

How important a figure was Dave Van Ronk on the Greenwich Village folk scene in its heyday? Consider the description of Bob Dylan, who was befriended by Van Ronk upon his arrival in New York in 1961, in his own memoir, Chronicles: "He was passionate and stinging, sang like a soldier of fortune and sounded like he paid the price. Van Ronk could howl and whisper, turn blues into ballads and ballads into blues. I… more »

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Nashville and the Art of the Fake Country Song

By Rob Harvilla, Contributor

[This piece contains spoilers from the ABC show Nashville — read at your own peril. — Ed.] Let us now consider Nashville, ABC's one-hour, primetime, moderately prestigious grand ole soap opry that seeks to triangulate Glee and Dallas by depicting the tawdry, bed-swapping, alarmingly pouty-faced back- and onstage shenanigans of (fictional) country music stars. Each episode boasts a handful of new songs — some pretty good, a few transcendent, most of 'em for sale. (We're on… more »

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Remembering Robin Williams

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“Weird Al” Yankovic, Mandatory Fun

2014 | Label: RCA Records Label

The announcement came in the middle of June: Accordion-wielding parodist “Weird Al” Yankovic would be releasing an album, his first since 2011′s Alpocalypse, in about a month. Details were scant — the reveal itself was cryptic, just a picture of Yankovic in military garb with “JULY 15″ in a vaguely dictatorial font. In the weeks leading up to the album, details about what songs and artists would fall in Al’s friendly crosshairs were scant. The only bread crumbs offered were a title, Mandatory Fun, and a few dictator-themed teaser… more »

James Blackshaw, Fantômas: Le Faux Magistrat

2014 | Label: Tompkins Square

There have been few superhero franchises as successful as that of Fantômas. It spans centuries and countries as well as all as media — there are Fantômas books, silent serials and feature films, comic books and television. In truth, superhero isn’t quite the correct term; the mysterious Fantômas is, instead, an anti-hero — a sadistic killer and sociopath. That avant-metal supergroup helmed by Mr. Bungle’s Mike Patton is named after him, and U.K. guitarist/ composer James Blackshaw’s latest album invokes that dastard once again.

Last year, composer (and renowned Amelie soundtrack… more »

Hedwig and the Angry Inch Original Broadway Cast Recording

2014 | Label: Atlantic Records

The rock musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch began as a vehicle for its writer/star John Cameron Mitchell to strut his stuff at Manhattan’s queer rock club Squeezebox, where Steven Trask’s band Cheater backed drag entertainers. The son of an Army Major General who commanded the U.S. occupation of West Berlin, Mitchell was inspired by the story of his former babysitter, a German-born prostitute who married a U.S. G.I. and ended up in a Kansas trailer park. Before Trask had finished composing the work’s original material, Mitchell started telling Hedwig‘s… more »